Bacuna breaks Villa boredom as they edge relegation rivals in FA Cup
Tim Sherwood sat in the stands, but a half-time team talk to new charges Aston Villa, 6/4 with Coral to be relegated, helped to turn a drab FA Cup fifth round tie into a platform for them to kick on and secure Premier League survival.
Caretaker Scott Marshall was officially in charge for a 2-1 win over fellow Midlands strugglers Leicester City, following Paul Lambert’s mideweek sacking, but some Sherwood influence was clear. Villa’s incoming boss and ex-Spurs head coach saw versatile Dutch player Leandro Bacuna and veteran Irish stopper Shay Given stake claims for more regular involvement.
Linked with every Premier League job going, including Villa’s local rivals West Bromwich Albion twice, and more besides, Sherwood can be satisfied with a morale-boosting behind the scenes start to life in Birmingham.
An awful first-half saw Foxes manager Nigel Pearson, who is still clinging to his job, and his team enjoy the better chances. Marcin Wasilewski’s flicked near post header from a corner clipped the far upright, and 38-year-old goalie Given rolled back the years by tipping away Matty James’ superb effort.
Villa were perhaps fortunate to see rusty skipper Ron Vlaar avoid a penalty punishment for what looked like a push on Leicester striker Andrej Kramaric. The hosts were devoid of midfield thrust and ideas on the ball.
Whatever Sherwood said or, based on the outspoken and brutal honesty he used when in charge of first-team affairs at Tottenham, rockets he gave his new players at the interval worked, however.
Pearson abandoned the cautious 5-4-1 formation his Foxes started in, after Christian Benteke took a more direct approach from the hosts, and with a quarter of the game to Bacuna grabbed a stunning opener.
Featuring in all but three Premier League games for Villa last term, the versatile Dutchman cut infield from the left and inside Danny Simpson onto his stronger foot. Baucuna’s net-buster on just his fourth start of the season breathed new life and confidence into the home side.
Offside flags ruled out Benteke and Andreas Weimann strikes either side of this moment, though Villa needed Given again to thwart both Leicester sub Leonardo Ulloa and Kramaric from the rebound.
Bacuna’s replacement, Scott Sinclair, grabbed what proved to be the winner when Benteke scooped a ball over the top to the Manchester City-owned winger, and his shot squirmed through 42-year-old Foxes keeper Mark Schwarzer.
With Villa Park rocking, as supporters saw their side score twice at home for just the fourth time this term, Kramaric set up a grandstand finish by powerfully heading home in stoppage time from Jeff Schlupp’s centre.
Sherwood’s appointment has already polarised opinion. He can win skeptical Villa fans over, however, from seeing him as a loose cannon (an image he has perhaps unfairly cultivated through media appearances), by taking the team to Wembley.
All Villa need is a favourable quarter-final draw, and they could be taking to the hallowed turf. Such a memorable day out for players and supporters alike is no guarantee of galvanizing success that translates over to the Premier League, though, with Portsmouth’s second cup final appearance in 2010 a case in point.
Any recipe for success at Villa seems to revolve around Sherwood getting supply and belief back into Benteke, with a similar spell to that which he used on Emmanuel Adebayor this time last year essential.
Midfield enigma Tom Cleverley, who is pretty similar in style to how his new manager was, could do with being charmed into playing football confidently again, wherever his long-term future lies.
Villa’s next five Premier League games are pivotal for their survival prospects. At home they face Stoke City, immersed in mid-table comfort, West Brom in a dog eat dog derby, and Swansea City, who lack a cutting edge without sold striker Wilfried Bony.
Between those battles on their own turf, Sherwood’s side have trips to the northeast and will take on inconsistent pair Newcastle United and Sunderland. He’s odds-on at 1/2 to keep Villa up.